The following is one of several interviews conducted by students of Ron DeMarco’s properties class at Emerson College.
Rick Ladomade: The real ‘Modern Family’ man.
By Georgia Foor
When first getting assigned Rick Ladomade, I was excited and nervous all the same time. I’d seen him in videos, and his work all throughout TV and Films. His work stretches from commercials and films such as Sinatra, Rising Sun, and In an Instant, to TV series such as ER, Miami Medical, Hawthorne, Twisted, and Modern Family. I honestly didn’t think I was even going to get a response, but I emailed him anyway. To my surprise, Rick is one of the kindest, most helpful people I’ve ever encountered. Who else would email a complete stranger, much less a college student, back for a class assignment? Only Rick would email me back within a day or two, every time. He was truly wonderful to talk to, and a great introspect into the world of props in film and television.
Rick started out studying art at Los Angeles Valley College (LAVC) and moved on to independent film making. He produced and directed small film projects and spec commercials. He felt this just wasn’t the right place for him and began working as a PA for a commercial production company, and quickly moved up to assistant art director. Although it was a rare opportunity, joining IATSE was the step he needed to transition into the props world. Rick became a prop assistant and quickly stepped up to prop master on ER by his mid-20s. Currently, he is working as prop master for Modern Family, but Rick says “I’m still a film maker and develop projects, but as a family man with kids, being a prop master has really given me a great opportunity both creatively and financially.”
Propping one of TV’s hit shows is no small undertaking. Rick arrives at Fox studios around 6:30am most days and goes straight into meetings with the Production designer, Art director, and Decorator organizing the day. From there, it’s a series of meetings with producers and directors regarding blocking, rehearsals and upcoming weekly schedules – all while making sure the on-set art and prop crews have everything they need for the day. Then it’s up to the office, breaking down early drafts of scripts while trying to stay ahead of the game, which leads to several conceptual meetings with various departments regarding future scripts and locations. Scouting locations happens a few times a week, but throughout all of this planning he is constantly researching and budgeting. A lot of his time is still spent shopping, driving to prop rental houses, and manufacturing props. You could say Rick is one busy guy that does it all. This is why I’m still amazed he had time to answer my emails! Through all this, Rick admits the greatest challenge of his job “is to get the most production value with your props and design while balancing a budget at the same time. One big challenge is how widely different the interpretations of props and designs are from different creative people. I try to put everyone’s ideas into perspective and come out with a workable solution.”
In his work, the most recent challenge was designing and building Rebarka from the Las Vegas episode of Modern Family. Barkley the dog butler was built and featured in season one, which was not built by Rick. Since the producers wanted a female maid version of Barkley, his job was to figure out a way to make Rebarka part human and part dog, but still a little bit sexy and look like she matched Barkley. The outcome was a success and was featured in the fifth season of Modern Family.
Propping so many different genres of television has its own challenges. On opposite ends of the spectrum are ER and Modern Family. On ER, Rick’s team consisted of seven prop guys, two medical TA’s and three doctors. They had to do careful research for every episode and required countless meetings and rehearsals. Many days were spent in the real ER, studying medical procedures, watching surgeries and traumas. With a very intense drama the focus was put on teaching the actors how to use each medical prop accurately. The prop department was a huge key in making the show work and look real, with props from prosthetics, fake babies, machines, and lots of blood. However, in Modern Family Rick said that “Modern Family is a comedy which allows me to think outside the box a bit more. I try to get into the characters head to figure out how they would do things. This allows me to parallel the props with the comedy… basically I ask myself, what would Phil Dunphy do?
As far as the impossible prop, Rick didn’t seem worried. In his 25 years of experience there has not been an item he couldn’t buy, rent, or manufacture, though he does admit that other prop masters might have run into the impossible prop. If you are a prop master in a pinch then Rick suggests the Facebook support page where they help each other out with problems. “Sometimes the simplest things can become the hardest, but there is usually always a way around it, even if it means having the writer tweak the scene.”
From Rick’s humble beginnings, he has worked his way up to being a well-known prop master in the TV and Film industry who can make anything. He carries a large work load in order to bring entertainment millions of people. Without him, and prop masters like him, the shows and films we love would cease to drag us into the world of the story. Props is what makes the actors and the audience believe what is happening and delivers the most realistic product possible. In order to be a great prop master it takes several skills. Being an extremely organized problem solver, with great communication skills, great decision making skills and a good attitude is just a few of the requirements of the position. Having solid financial skills and being able to work within a budget is a good quality because people trust you with a lot of money to make their project work. Lastly, Rick recommends having “commitment and passion for what you do.” So if you want to become a prop master, like Rick Ladomade, here is his advice:
Becoming a Property Master requires many years of experience in the props or art departments, and since it is an extension of the art department it is good to have basic art experience. Start building your skills early. Volunteer to work in school productions.
Going into props the first time doesn’t require specific qualifications, however having a background in art or design can’t hurt. Keep photos and sketches of everything you produce, so that you build up a good portfolio of your work. When you have finished school you can apply for a job as a prop or art PA or trainee… on the job training is by far the best training. The better your skills the better chance you have. Be confident!